Brighton Railway (Selsey Tramway) poster, c.1910 (Add Mss 13773)

02 Add Mss 13773Chosen by Bill Gage, member of staff

Selsey Tram Opening
Selsey Tram on the opening day 27 August 1897 with the loco “Chichester” at the head of the train ready to depart at Selsey

I found this poster whilst I was researching the history of the Selsey Tram which operated from 1897 until its closure in 1935. The Selsey Tram, as it was known locally, was in fact a light railway which ran from Chichester all the way down the Selsey Peninsula. Its official designation as a Tramway enabled its operation using steam locomotives and petrol driven railcars, and permitted its operation without the numerous level crossings being protected by gates, avoiding the expense of the installation of crossing gates at the many places on the rail journey to Selsey where the railway crossed the public highway.

The poster gives the impression that the line was operated by the LBSCR, however this was not the case. Whilst the Tramway did have a connection to the LBSCR mainline at Chichester, it had its own Chichester Station constructed out of corrugated iron, and used antiquated steam locomotives and eventually Ford & Shefflex railcars in a bid to save costs.

The tramway was put to use for many different purposes. It enabled the Selsey peninsula to be developed by enabling the easier and quicker transportation of building materials, agricultural goods and of course people. During a single year it would carry 85,000 holiday-making passengers to the popular beaches of Selsey. It also provided a fast link to the fish markets of Brighton & London and carried the famous Pullinger Mousetraps that were exported all over the world.

Selsey Town
Selsey Town station. A busy seen circa 1910 with a train arriving from Chichester. People in the photo include Edward G. Arnell, magistrate (by lamppost), lady with bike, Mrs. H. A. Smith, the lady behind is Mildred Phipps, gentleman with arms folded, Walter Smith, proprietor of Fisherman’s Joy Inn

It was also a railway that operated largely for the local community. For example, there is a well-known story of a train driver who would leave his engine to knock on the door of a schoolboy’s home to wake him up so he wouldn’t’ be late for his daily school trip to Chichester.

From schoolchildren to famous passengers of the line, the astronomer Patrick Moore is known to have travelled on the line, as did Eric Coates, who composed “By the Sleepy Lagoon” which is still used as the introductory music for the radio programme “Desert Island Discs”.

As with many branch lines, the introduction of the local bus services and the increasing use of private cars and lorries saw a major slump in both passenger numbers and the use of the line for the transportation of goods. This was not assisted by the lack of maintenance and care along the line, which would lead to many regular breakdowns and the eventual cessation of the daily train service .

Eventually, on 19 January 1935, the insolvent railway was closed by the Official Receiver. All railway equipment and stock was sold for scrap, although the loco nameplates of Selsey & Ringing Rock have survived, as have some coaches which are now holiday homes on east beach at Selsey.

The unpredictability of the train service in the later years led to such cartoons being drawn

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